Hollywood wants Red Riding Hood and Snow White to weave a box office spell
Studios and A-list actors are banking on updated versions of fairytale favourites to explore darker themes about sexuality that will appeal to today's teenage audiences
Prepare for a fairytale invasion. Hollywood movie studios, in their constant quest for remakes and modern spins on old stories, are about to unleash a new wave of film versions of ancient European folktales.
The list includes an updated version of Little Red Riding Hood, two films based on the Snow White story, a movie of the old English fable Jack and the Beanstalk, a 3D Pinocchio, a version of Beauty and the Beastset in modern America called Beastly, and the unusually titled Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.
The recent release of a new Disney cartoon version of the Rapunzel story called Tangled will be followed this weekend by the release ofBeastly, whose monster is a high-school jock magically turned into an ugly freak due to his vanity and arrogance.
But the fairytale revolution will really get into top gear with the debut in the US of Little Red Riding Hood, starring the rising young actress Amanda Seyfried.
Like many of the coming rush of fairytale films, the movie takes the format of an ancient folktale, set in a village in a deep forest menaced by a predatory wolf, and gives it a contemporary feel.
In this case the project is clearly aimed at a teenage audience obsessed with awakening sexuality and the supernatural. Its director is Catherine Hardwicke of the hit vampire movie Twilight. "This Little Red Riding Hoodlooks completely made for the Twilight generation. It looks like it is teenage angst and very pale people," said Professor Jonathan Gray, a popular culture expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The new films are attracting some of the biggest names in Hollywood.Jack the Giant Killer, which is to be directed by Bryan Singer, features Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci and Bill Nighy. The Hansel and Gretel film has signed up British actress Gemma Arterton. But perhaps the most anticipated are the twin Snow White films. Snow White and the Huntsmanhas Charlize Theron playing the villainous Queen, while Julia Roberts – still perhaps the biggest female star in Hollywood – has taken the same role in The Brothers Grimm: Snow White. "Julia was our first and only choice to play the Queen. She is an icon, and we know that she will make this role her own," said producer Ryan Kavanaugh.
Nor is it just A-list actors who are being drawn to the genre. One of the main forces behind the new Pinocchio is the top Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, who is famed for his dark, fantastical visions. They may be a world away from the child-friendly film versions of the legend that most people are familiar with, but experts say his role in the new venture is no surprise.
Though previous Hollywood treatments of fairytales, such as the classic 1937 Snow White cartoon, have often been aimed squarely at family audiences, the ancient stories offer a wealth of opportunities to probe much darker themes. Beneath the magical surface of a fairytale, with its castles and princesses, often lurk ideas around sexuality, the dangers of growing up and leaving home, relationships between children and parents, and the threat that adult strangers can pose.
"Fairytales can be quite dark," said Gray. He pointed out that the idea of locking up a pretty princess in a tower – as in the story of Rapunzel – or putting one to sleep with a poisoned apple because she is so beautiful, as in Snow White – can be seen as conservative morality fables about the dangers of young female sexual power.
"There is often a theme about the threat of female sexuality. They can be about imposing rules and limiting sexual power with acceptable boundaries. When Snow White hangs out with men, they turn out to be seven dwarves, and so they are not a sexual threat," he said.
Such themes certainly seem to have helped attract Hardwicke to the Red Riding Hood story. In a recent interview with Newsweek, she said: "Why did she get in bed with the wolf … It represents a dark animal nature which is close to sexuality. In the traditional story, the wolf cross-dresses and lures her into bed. That's pretty kinky right there!"
But there are other reasons behind Hollywood's latest trend. Movie executives, faced with squeezed bottom lines and a US economy still struggling to recover from financial crisis, see fairytales as potential money-spinners. Hollywood history is littered with successful adaptations and the stories are already familiar to moviegoers, which means marketing a film becomes easier and cheaper.
"The entertainment industry's appetite is voracious for content, plots and ideas and these fairytales work. They've been around for ever," said Barry Brummett, a communications professor at the University of Texas, Austin
Two remakes are planned of the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a classic Disney cartoon.